Confirmed into Joy

shiny monstrance in catholic church
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The great joys of my life: Marriage. Fatherhood. Entry into the Holy Church …

This Church – when exactly did I enter her, I wonder? Even in 1997 on the threshold of my 34th birthday, was there somehow a partial entry into Her Mysteries – when I had a set of unexpected experiences which led me to know I had found a new way?

These experiences included that of a Catholic Mass where I went towards the altar for a blessing, with very little notion what that meant. But in a loud voice which jolted me, the priest laid his hand on my forehead and blessed me: “In the name of the Father and the Son ans the Holy Spirit.” And I felt different, palpably different for the rest of that day.

Or in asking this question about the Mystery of the Church, should I cite the following Spring, when I was baptised into the Church of England?

And what of the night of Easter 2000, where I was confirmed into the Catholic Church? That night, that night a wholly unexpected joy descended.

For I had not entered the Catholic Church with longing as many do. Indeed I entered still somewhat with resistance. I still had many very liberal, very New Age ideas in my mind and I had not sought out the Catholic Church as others do, with either a sense of a longed-for home, or a conviction that Catholicism was necessarily more doctrinally sound or superior.

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No – in my contemplative life, I had felt a call that demanded obedience. I was in Germany with a very poor command of the language. But a dear friend had told me of a priest he knew, who had something of a New Age background and who would understand my situation.

Interior forces built up within me. Almost as if forced to the phone, I rang the priest and in broken German uttered life-changing words I managed to summon forth. To the best of my recollection: “Ich suche Eintritt in die katholische Kirche” – I seek entrance into the Catholic Church.

My German was so poor that it was clear that I could not undertake the normal route of entry via a German RCIA programme. Instead this priest gave Kim and myself, a life-gift whose wonders cannot be expressed in this blog or in a thousand blogs …

With the permission of his Bishop, he undertook to give us himself an initiation into the Church. We had personal instruction from a wise, beautiful priest, we had our first Sacrament of Confession and it was an incredible journey. But even it did not prepare me for this unexpected joy that descended that Easter night.

Really nothing prepared me for this joy suddenly experienced on entering the Catholic Church – even if my baptism two years earlier had been very meaningful and arranged by an Anglican Servant of God, whose life-gift to me I shall also never forget.

For truly the experience of the Catholic confirmation was far, far more powerful than my baptism – perhaps all the moreso because truly it was unanticipated. I repeat: I had not entered the Catholic Church with a longing for something I perceived would be so rewarding or meaningful; I had gone to phone that priest with a sense of following an interior command.

And the point of introducing this little slice of autobiography here? It seems to me that there is a general cultural need to speak – to speak more of what I have elsewhere called the Strange Joy of Catholiciism.

This joy, this joy. For 34 years I had not the slightest idea that such joy existed in this world. We are used to hearing of the joys of marriage and parenthood, but we in the secular world are not much used to hearing I think of the joy of being sacramentally confirmed into Catholicism.

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And if by any chance, we should happen to hear of it – though I certainly spent 34 years without registering even a whisper – we do not hear of it spoken of in terms comparable to the joy of meeting our beloved or having a child …

And yet after the descent of that Easter joy, things began to happen. The Mysteries of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession began to open up to me, of course. But also entering the Catholic milieu, I began to hear from others, who had also experienced this same life-changing joy.

And as year after year has passed, as I have felt ever more strengthened, deepened and grateful beyond measure for the joy of participating in the Mysteries of the Church, I have become ever more concerned with how very, very invisible these Mysteries are to people.

Such that like myself before the age of 34, I know there is an entire continent of New Age seekers, seeking mystery, who have no idea as to the Mystery of the Catholic Church.

And through decades long contact with New Age seekers, I know what they are so often thinking – particularly if they come from English speaking Protestant heritage like myself. They are so often assuming “Christianity is Christianity” and they have no idea that behind their (Protestant) stereotypes, there lies this mighty Church succouring, strengthening, deepening, affirming through the Mystery of Her Sacraments.

And how much more powerful is this experience of the Sacraments, when one enters into them very regularly, even daily …

If one has the Grace of not being completely submerged in Anglo-American culture of Protestant heritage, the view can be different. Having lived in Ireland, France and Spain, I do see that those cultures offer certain forms of protection.

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The Mystery of the Catholic Church is not so invisible there, as it is in the Anglo-American matrix, the Anglo-American matrix which is fast becoming world-matrix

But as this Secular Anglo-American Matrix continues its ascent, so does the New Age culture which significantly I think, is spawned in it. Britain and America are the lands from which sprang the seminal New Age literature. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian came to the West and wrote her Eastern Secret Doctrine in English

O England land of my forebears, it is no coincidence I think, that not only have you been among the most Protestant of nations, but you are now it seems to me, among the most New Age of nations!

And your New Age culture is far less likely to take hold in Madrid say, from whence I write these words. Though with Anglo-American globalisation, New Age culture begins to penetrate even Catholic Spain …

To these profound themes, I hope to return. Suffice it to say, vast forces would bury the Catholic Mystery in a shroud of unknowing. But I think we who know the Joy of the Mystery into which we are confirmed, must not aid and abet the unknowing by holding our tongues.

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